I appreciated Maryon Atwood’s Sound Off column of about a month ago in which she outlined the history of residential, commercial and public facility development in Central Whidbey, following the release of the Navy’s 2005 Air Installations Compatible Use Zones, outlining for local governments how they should plan for development.
I was unaware of this history.
Times have changed, and the Navy’s needs have changed.
Their current plan of use for the OLF Coupeville requires the establishment of Accident Potential Zones, which means a drastic rezoning for Central Whidbey.
The Navy knows, from experience, what the potential dangers are with a very heavy operational use in the immediate vicinity of a touch-and-go field.
These are real dangers, and if operations do increase to 23,700 as is planned, these APZs do need to be in place for public safety.
Most of what was considered “compatible use” a few years ago will no longer be compatible.
We don’t know exactly what the zone boundaries will be; the Navy has yet to decide this. There will potentially be three zones.
My understanding is that the Clear Zone and Zone 1, the most severely restricted area for development, is basically the area directly under the flight path of Growler touch-and-go operations.
We don’t yet know what that area will be, but I think we can assume it will be a significantly larger area than it is now under the flight path. In the past, most of these operations were comprised of three jets at a time.
With the addition of many more planes and pilots in need of training I imagine that we can expect that operations may be comprised of up to four or even five jets at a time, which would require larger swings, flying over a much larger area.
Activities that aren’t “compatible use” for Zone 1 would potentially be anyplace groups of people congregate or where there is fuel or machinery being used.
Or where people live. It would seem that the transit station, WAIF, the transfer station, the Sportsman’s Club, Ryan’s House, Rhododendron Park athletic field, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Hall, the highway and the many businesses in that area are all “incompatible use.”
Not to mention the hundreds of private residences in the area.
Historically, the Navy is not responsible for implementing this zoning; that is up to local governments. The county is responsible and would potentially have to come up with the money to compensate business and property owners.
We are not a wealthy county. With decreased property tax income from Central Whidbey, and drastically reduced tourist income overall, where is the money going to come from?
How much increase in property tax can the rest of Island County residents stand? Are there other potential sources of income for the county?
How can we possibly afford to move the Transit station? Will we simply have to forgo having public bus service? Can we insist that the Navy bear a significant portion of this burden?
If the county can’t find the money to implement all of the Navy’s recommendations, and there is a crash, is the county liable for that? Could the county be sued for damages?
I sure hope our county commissioners are thinking about these challenges.
They’re going to have to come up with a plan to deal with these changes in zoning requirements.
The time to start thinking and dialoguing about it is now.